H. W. Bush - Remarks
Washington College celebrated the 200th
anniversary of the death of George Washington with a
year-long series of special events. Former President
George Bush and his wife Barbara received honorary
Doctor of Public Service degrees
and happily fielded previously approved student
at a special convocation on January 29, 1999.
too, want to thank President Toll, the Board of Visitors
and Governors, and everyone at Washington College for
this degree. It is an honor to join Barbara and
Dr. [James]Watson in becoming a part of the Washington
College community, named for one for whom we all have a
respect that borders on reverence.
Let me also pay my respects to the Quantico Marine Band
and Color Guard for adding a special touch of class to
the proceedings today. Seeing them reminds me
that, of the things I do miss about my previous line of
work, working with our nation’s Armed Forces ranks right
up there at the top. And if I may add: A lot of people
might consider concepts like duty, honor, country to be
old fashioned, but if America is to remain free, strong,
and good, service in uniform must never go out of style.
The times may change, but some values should never
That said, it is an honor to be here for the opening
event of a yearlong celebration of the life of George
Washington. It is particularly an honor to follow in
Washington’s great footsteps to receive this degree. The
other time I followed in President Washington’s
footsteps occurred ten years ago last week, when I was
sworn into office on the 200th
anniversary of his inauguration.
Today, we are gathered on the 200th
anniversary of Washington’s death. And I am pleased to
report that I have no intention of following in his
footsteps there, not just yet, anyway.
The story goes that Harry Truman, who visited the 1946
commencement address here at Washington College,
bristled the first time someone referred to him as a
statesman. He said, “A statesman is a politician who’s
been dead for 15 years.” And it’s true that we say nice
things about those who have gone to their final reward.
But when Washington died on December 14, 1799, perhaps
it was no exaggeration to note, as one newspaper did,
that our first president was embalmed with the tears of
America. It was a sad day for our country, and certainly
one for this school where Washington had invested much
of his time and concern. That, in and of itself, is a
rather precious and unique legacy to possess.
You can’t travel far in this part of the country without
coming upon some place that boasts Washington slept
here. As the saying goes, if all those claims are true,
then Washington must have won the war in his sleep. But
we know that Washington did more than sleep here.
Here, he offered his name in addition to his investment
of time and money. And with that name go the ideals of
leadership that form the foundation of this institution.
After all, the name Washington today is synonymous with
And tonight, I thought I would try to bring us up to
speed, and share a few thoughts about American
leadership not only in the world today but also what it
means for the future.
In some ways, it’s an inherently tough topic to address,
because our role in the world today means different
things to different people. Ten years ago, when I cam
into office, our primary role in the world was still to
act as a counterbalance to the Soviet Union. But events
moved quickly during our four years. Everyday, it seemed
we faced a new world-- as the Berlin Wall fell and
Germany reunified; the Warsaw Pact disintegrated and
Central and Eastern Europe were liberated (as were the
Baltics); the Soviet Empire imploded, and a democratic
Russia emerged in its wake. So much change took place so
quickly and so peacefully, and today we take heart as
freedom continues its steady march around the world.
Of course, that is not to suggest that the revolution
ignited in the late 1980s has continued unabated, or
without encountering significant challenges. The Cold
War may be over, but big problems remain. Churchill once
said: “The problems of victory are more agreeable than
those of defeat, but they are no less difficult.”
Well, as agreeable as freedom’s victory in the Cold War
is, it has also given rise to a difficult new debate
about what our role in the world is. Whereas our role as
leader of the Western Alliance used to define American
leadership for the most part, today economic and
domestic considerations compete with questions of
national defense and security.
To give you an idea of how things have changed: Ten
years ago, our ability to lead was measured by how we
responded to events rapidly unfolding in Central and
Eastern Europe, where people were making their stand for
freedom. We were also gauged by how we interacted with
the charismatic Soviet leader, Gorbachev, and how we
respond to his bid to reform the Soviet system.
Today, the story is in Asia, and the priority issues
seem to center on economics. The currency crisis, China,
Jiang Zemin, these are the new issues, and countries,
and names that dominate our attention.
But there is another difference too.
During the Cold War, each major development, from the
various Soviet invasions, to questions about Star Wars,
and all points in between, provoked serious debate in
this country about the right policy to pursue. What
should we do? How do we respond? Is this right? But
during the cold War, there was not the over-riding doubt
there is today about the big picture.
From the start of the Cold War there was a consensus
that imperial communism posed a serious threat to our
national interests, and that consensus formed the
foundation on which most policy decisions were made.
(Note, for example, that Democrats and Republicans alike
quickly rallied behind President Truman when he
introduced the doctrine of containment).
To be sure, there was more unity back then. Sen.
Vandenberg’s maxim that all politics stop at the water’s
edge held truer back then that it does today. Indeed,
back in 1991, when I went to the Congress before Desert
Storm to ask for a resolution authorizing us to use
whatever means necessary to end Iraqi aggression against
Kuwait, every single Democratic leader, every one,
opposed the resolution. Yes, today it is different from
Today there is more doubt. Just as troublesome: Today
there are two starkly contrasting, and fiercely
competing, conceptions of America’s role in the world.
And the outcome of this debate, this philosophical
competition, will go a long way towards shaping the
world our children and grandchildren will live in.
The first is the view which, for the most part,
prevailed during the Cold War. It is the view that we
must stay engaged in the world, and do the hard work of
diplomacy, and continue to champion the cause of freedom
around the world.
The opposing view, sponsored by an unsavory coalition
comprising extreme elements of the Left and the Right,
is that it is time for America to come home and focus
primarily on domestic problems. Some call it “America
First.” There are two problems with America First.
The first is it puts America at a disadvantage when it
comes to fostering trade and promoting regional
stability in places like Asia. For example, time and
again we’ve seen zealots in the labor and the
environmental movements undermine a President’s attempts
to negotiate trade with other countries by insisting on
a multitude of preconditions.
The short-term effect is that they may succeed in
delaying or stalling the President’s agenda, but the
long-term result is that they also are hurting our
credibility around the world. And when you lose your
credibility in the international arena, you also lose
your effectiveness to address and resolve problems.
The second problem with “America First” is that some are
appealing to nationalist sentiments by bashing our
strategic partners abroad. At times, we’ve heard some
ugly references used, like those that Ross Perot used to
argue against NAFTA back in 1992. I’ll never forget his
ugly insults directed at Mexico.
My point is: The debate over America’s role in the world
is far from over.
Out of the tumultuous pace and dramatic scope of the
change we witnessed earlier in the decade, the landscape
of this new era has yet to settle. As a result, we seem
to be following the Yogi Berra rule,” when you come to a
fork in the road, take it.”
But to me there is no choice about what our role should
be in the post-Cold War era: We should lead with
principle and clarity. We should stay engaged in global
affairs, and work with our allies, and set a clear
direction as to the kind of world we want to live in.
The Soviet bear may be gone, but new threats have
emerged. And as Churchill forewarned, the superpower has
receded, but difficult challenges surely remain.
Today, the geopolitical enemies we face are instability
and unpredictability. They are international terrorism,
religious fanaticism, weapons proliferation, and the
Only the United States has the capability and the moral
standing to address these issues on a global scale. That
doesn’t mean we want, or need, to be the world’s
policeman. Indeed, some people thought this is what I
meant when I talked a bout a new world order. Others
thought I meant creating a one-world government by
subordinating our sovereignty to the UN or the WTO.
What it does mean is that, as the sole remaining
superpower, we have an obligation to help shape a more
peaceful world in which freedom, democracy, and free
markets are the norm. If se don’t do it, no one else
can. Teddy Roosevelt, another one of my heroes, once
said: “Much has been give to us, and much is rightly
expected from us. We have duties to others and duties to
ourselves, and we can shirk neither.” Just as it was in
the 20th century, so too do I believe that
American leadership is an absolutely indispensable
ingredient for extending the promise of democratic
capitalism into the 21st century.
These days I am out of politics, and happily so, but I
still hope Barbara and I can find ways to contribute and
do our part.
One thing I am proud of is our George Bush School of
Governmental and Public Service, which opened last fall
at Texas A&M University. It’s a relatively small
program, but we have big hopes for what we want to
accomplish there. Above all else, I want to share with
these students my firm belief not only in the importance
of American leadership, but also that public service is
a noble calling. We need good and decent people to get
involved in our political system, because our democracy
is only as good as the men and women who participate in
So, to the students of Washington College, let me say:
Get involved. Take an interest. If you don’t like the
way things are, do something about it, don’t just
criticize. Most of all, remember that character does
matter. Some of you may have heard of Sam Rayburn, who
was a Texas legend in political circles and who was one
of the great Congressional leaders of the 20th
century. Old Sam grew to be a respected and powerful man
in Washington, but he came from humble beginnings. As a
boy, his father told him: “Character is all I have to
offer you. Be a man.” Character is important. Character
is what remains.
As for me, it was the highest honor of my life to serve
as President, and for Barbara and I to reside in that
magnificent house. After my predecessor and fellow
Texan, LBJ, left the White House, he said he knew the
“time would come when I would look back on the majesty
and the splendor of the Presidency and find it hard to
believe that I had actually been there.” I feel the same
But life goes on, and our lives are truly blessed. What
interests me now is our friends and family. I’ve got a
lot of fishing I need to do with our grandkids.
The only politics that interests me now is the politics
of my two sons. Last week, in fact, Barbara and I were
in Austin to see our son, George W., sworn in to serve
his second term as Texas Governor. Earlier this month,
we were also in Tallahassee to see our other politically
active son, Jeb, sworn in as the 43rd
Governor of Florida. (It was 23 degrees in “sunny”
Florida” for Jeb’s inauguration). Afterward, Barbara
said she always thought it would be a “cold day in hell”
before one of her sons did something like that. True,
they were rambunctious lads growing up, but needless to
say, we’re very proud of them, just as we are of their
two brothers, Marvin and Neil, and their sister, Doro.
I had my chance to serve, and did my best. But it was
Thomas Jefferson, one of George Washington’s worthiest
peers, who spoke of a fullness of time when men should
go, and not occupy too long the high ground to which
others have a right to advance.” So it is in the Bush
family. And I can honestly say that, after all the high
level positions I’ve been privileged to hold, the three
most important are the only three I have left, as a
husband, a father, and a granddad.
What could be better than that?
So good luck to you all. Thank you very much.
Bush - Remarks
Let me first thank
President Toll for those kind words, as well as the
Board of Visitors and Governors for this degree—which I
appreciate more than you know. Being invited to receive
a degree with a renowned, Nobel-Prize winning scientist
like Dr. James Watson—to say nothing of the greatest
President in the world (whoops—forgot where I am—better
make that the second-greatest President)—being here with
these two distinguished leaders, I kinda feel like the
mule that was invited to run in the Kentucky Derby. I’m
a little out of my league.
But George and I are
pleased to be here with all of you at Washington College,
and pleased, too, to help you kick off this yearlong
celebration of George Washington’s life. His was surely
an extraordinary life, and it struck me that there are
several similarities between your George and my George.
For instance, both were war heroes; both served as
President of the United States; and both are recognized
for their integrity as men of true honor.
But as many of you know,
only my George has jumped out of an airplane at 12,500
feet. George doesn’t like me to mention his skydiving
exploits because he thinks it’s bragging. Well, I don’t
mention it to brag—I just think he’s nuts.
Some of you may already
be aware that the podium from which we are speaking with
you today is a new one constructed from the historic
Washington College Elm, which was so beloved it lives on
as the namesake for your school paper, The Elm. But
because this is a new podium, I’m going to go easy on it
by sharing just a few brief thoughts, particularly for
The first is that you
should go immediately to your teachers and
administrators and thank them for the work they do
everyday to help educate your minds. You should thank
your lucky stars for the opportunities that you have,
and that many others don’t.
As a longtime advocate
of family literacy, I meet people every day who struggle
and sacrifice to learn how to read and who will tell you
that you can’t put a price on a good education. The
opportunities you have here to learn from such dedicated
people is a wonderful blessing, and I hope you are
taking full advantage of it. Look at it this way: Yu
can’t spend every waking moment at the Cove.
Second, value your
friends. They are your most valuable asset.
Third, whatever you do,
make sure you enjoy life. Live is supposed to have joy.
It’s supposed to be fun. When you decide to do
something, you have a decision to make. You can either
enjoy what you do, r hate it. I choose to love what I
do, and recommend others to do the same.
Fourth, I hope the
students of Washington College will get involved in
trying to help solve the big challenges of your day.
Remember: The real satisfaction of work comes when we
work for a cause that is bigger than ourselves. As my
favorite President often says, “From now on in America,
any definition of a successful life must include service
to others.” He’s right.
One thing is certain:
Here at Washington College, you have a wide variety of
wonderful community service organizations to choose from
and to help out. Groups like Big Brother/Big
Sister, Peer Educators, and certainly the Hands Out
volunteer center. But my favorite organization has to be
your B.U.S.H. group, Beautification Using Student Help,
which works to keep your campus looking clean and
Finally, no matter how
tough the going may get sometimes, never give up on
yourself. Learn to persevere. Try to be like the
missionary, who was sitting in a small corner restaurant
reading a letter delivered from home. As she opened the
letter, a crisp, new twenty-dollar bill caught her
attention. Needless to say, she was pleasantly
surprised, but as she read the letter, her eyes were
distracted by the movement of a raggedly dressed man on
the sidewalk leaning against a light post in front of
the building. She couldn’t get his peculiar condition
and stature off her mind. Thinking that he might have
greater financial need than she might, she slipped the
bill into an envelope on which she quickly penned,
“persevere.” Leaving the restaurant, she nonchalantly
dropped the envelope at the stranger’s feet. Turning
slowly, he picked it up, read it, watched the woman walk
away, and smiled as he tipped his hat and went his way.
The next day walking down the street, she felt a tap on
her shoulder. She found the same shabbily dressed man
smiling as he handed her a roll of bills. When she asked
what they were for, he replied: That’s the money you
won, lady. Persevere paid five to one!”
I can’t guarantee
rewards, but a successful fruitful life.
Thank you, again, for
this degree, which I will treasure. Good luck to